Q: I heard that pumpkin is extremely nutritious. But is it recommended during pregnancy? How about "pumpkin spice"? What is "pumpkin spice" and is it safe in pregnancy?
A: This tasty Halloween and Thanksgiving staple is widely used in cooking since most of its parts including the fleshy shell, seeds, and flowers are edible. From a botanist's perspective, pumpkins are fruits and not vegetables. Their very high Vitamin A content in particular makes them important during the pregnancy phase.
They can be served boiled, baked, steamed or roasted or used in soups and purees. You can roast the seeds and eat them as a snack. Small and green pumpkins may be relished in the same way as zucchini. You can also mash them and consume them. In addition, pumpkins are filled with carotene, a percursor to Vitamin A. You cannot get too much Vitamine A by eating carotene because the body regulates conversion from carotene to Vitamin A.
"Pumpkin Spice" is usually not made from pumpkin and may contain artificial chemicals.
Pumpkin has a range of fantastic health benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. It also gives orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant color. The body converts any ingested beta-carotene into vitamin A. Too much vitamin A is not recommended in pregnancy, however beta-carotene, (the "pre-vitamin A") is safe in pregnancy.
During pregnancy, pumpkins can relieve abdominal cramps if you cook them, steam them and add to stir/fry or eat them as a soup or pie. Pumpkins can also eliminate dysentery, eczema and edema. They reduce blood sugar levels when consumed without sugar. They help to deworm your intestines and clear up the spleen, improve conditions of malnutrition, and relieve bronchial infections.
Pumpkin seeds are especially beneficial for expecting mothers. They contain high amounts of protein, zinc and other vitamins. They are thought to reduce cholesterol to safe levels. One gram of pumpkin seed protein contains an amount of Tryptophan equivalent to a glass of milk. These seeds supply lots of magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and phytosterols that improve the function of the liver and your body's immunity. Pumpkin seed oil contains fatty acids that make the blood vessels, tissues and the nerves healthy. Pumpkin is also rich in fiber that is much needed by expectant women to relieve conditions of constipation common during pregnancy.
What is "Pumpkin Spice" and is it safe in Pregnancy?
"Pumpkin Spice" is a flavor that is composed of many different elements and chemicals. In fact, it can be composed of more than 300 elements. And none of these chemicals are made directly from a pumpkin.
Homemade "pumpkin spice" is a mixture of mostly cinnamon most often mixed with ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and mace.
There are pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiches, pumpkin spice-flavored almonds and, of course, pumpkin spice lattes and many of the food products marketed during fall as having "pumpkin spice" do not usually contain these spices above. Commercial pumpkin spice made by flavor companies do not usually use chemicals that naturally occur in pumpkin, and instead use certain chemicals to mimic the flavor of pumpkin pie.
"Pumpkin spice latte" by Starbucks actually includes many natural ingredients such as pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
Pumpkin spice Dunkin' Donuts coffee includes "Natural and Artificial Flavors".
Other "pumpkin spice" additives include a compound called sabinene which is being added in place of nutmeg, and eugenol in place of cloves. None of these chemicals have ever been found to be safe in pregnancy.
A search on Pubmed did not show any publication on "sabinene + pregnancy", and there were 10 articles found for "eugenol + pregnancy". Several publications showed adverse pregnancy outcomes of eugenol/isoeugenol:
One publication showed a potentially adverse effect of eugenolon heart activity in mice cells while another publication showed several toxic effects of isoeugenol in pregnant rats.
There is only a single study on the pregnancy effect of the food coloring chemical annatto and it did not find adverse pregnancy outcomes in rats. There are no studies in humans though.